Debate no more if you should buy a sewing machine when you have ideas for opening a handmade shop; children to make cloth diapers, potty training pants, and wearable blanket so you can sleep through the night when your baby finally sleeps through the night, children dress and clothes; fashion for yourself and family; and window treatments for a newly purchased home. The list can go on. The point is it's easier to justify buying a sewing machine than buying a pair of jeans, at least it's so for me. So here are 10 tips to help you make a best investment.
1. How much, where, and what brand?
How much to spend on a sewing machine? In one word, buy the most expensive machine you can afford. In two words, don't spend any cents buying the $15 handheld sewing tool or $25 kids sewing machine, they are total waste of money. I regret I did that. I'm talking about $100 up all the way to $2000 sewing machine.
Where to buy? Unless you know a place to get great deals, I recommend Joann Fabric Store. If you haven't signed up for its sale flyer to send to your mailbox, you may do it as soon as possible as it takes a while for your registration to be entered into its system. The flyer not only contains 50% off coupon, also when and what kind of sewing machines are on sale. I bought mine for $399, but soon it was $299 in the flyer. It seemed to take endless hours to make $100 by sewing cloth diapers (That's what I did when I first got my sewing machine). If you like shopping online, there are many on Amazon or Fabric to look at without making one step.
What brand to consider? A friend of mine recommended her $2000 industry grade Bernina Sewing Machine which I couldn't afford. Another friend had a $200 Brother which she didn't recommend. I ended up buying a Singer. Had I known I would eventually make enough money to recover the sewing machine cost by sewing cloth diapers (That was the need and idea I had at that time) with it, I would probably have brought home a Husqvarna Viking which was a couple hundred dollars more. So ask and look around, don't just take my word.
Besides the above general questions on sewing machine. What stitch patterns/functions/accessories to look for when buying a sewing machine?
2. Straight stitch with auto tie-off function: In my opinion, this is the most basic and important stitch/function your sewing machine should have. The advantages of machine sewing over hand sewing are speed and durability. With that, once the foot control is pressed, the machine will sew 4 stitches (Singer brand) forward and then 4 stitches in reverse and continue to sew forward until the foot control is released; once the reverse button is pushed at the end of the seam, the machine will sew 4 stitches in reverse and then 4 stitches in forward and stop. The first stitch line in the picture illustrates it. Without this stitch function, you'll have to manually pull top thread under to tie knot with bobbin thread at the beginning and end of each seam, which is very time consuming and always less durable than the machine stitch with auto tie-off function.
3. Straight stitch with stitch length can be adjusted to at least 4.8mm: Many projects may require gathering fabric or baste. To gather, the longer the stitches, the better it works. Without it, gathering can be time consuming or frustrating if you have to resort to hand sewing. The second stitch line in the picture shows it.
4. Buttonhole stitch and foot: Again a machine buttonhole stitch and foot can save you tons of time and promise quality. You want to make sure your sewing machine has that. Please see the third stitch line in the picture.
5. Blindhem stitch and foot: This stitch and foot come in handy if you need to hem formal trousers and skirts or if you are into making window treatments. Depending on your plan for the sewing machine, you might want to make sure your machine has the ability and work well. Mine has it but doesn't work well. If I were to buy a machine now, I would ask the sales tech to demonstrate how it works. The instruction manual does say blindhem stitch needs practice which kills me as I can be impatient.
6. Drop feed dog button: This could be very important to you if you plan to do free motion quilting. The button lowers feed dog so you can move the fabric with your hands not the machine feed dog. The video in the link shows what's it about. Ask the sales rep if your machine has it.
7. Zipper foot: I suppose it's important to have zipper foot. Mine has it but it doesn't work well. I always managed to insert zipper with general foot. If I were to buy a machine now, I would make sure it works well.
8. Bobbin winder ability: If you don't already have a bobbin winding tool, it's necessary that your sewing machine can wind bobbins itself and works well. You'll use it all the time.
9. Twin needle function: Twin needle can be used to stitch knit shirt sleeve hem or top decorative twin stitches on jeans. Again depends on your plan for the machine, be aware if your machine can or can't use twin needle which usually you need to buy separately. It's not a must, you can always stitch two times to achieve the effect. But twin needle stitch is done perfectly parallel once.
10. Differentiating feeding: Lastly and most importantly, something I so wish my sewing machine has is called differentiating feeding which most home sewing machines don't have. Mine doesn't have. I heard the $2000 sewing machines have it. Why it is so important? If you have sewn anything on an average home sewing machine like mine, soon you found an annoying problem: the top layer fabric always end up longer than the bottom layer fabric when you stitch a seam. To my understanding, that's because the feeding dog pulls the bottom layer fabric away to the back and the pressure foot pushes on the top layer fabric and causes it to stretch forward to the front, so the top layer fabric ends up longer than the bottom layer fabric at the end of a long seam. It won't hurt anything to ask if your machine has differentiating feeding when you buy. If it does, buy it! If it doesn't, you'll have to buy a thing called even feed walking feet to solve the problem.
Oops! I said 10 tips. But there is one more.
11. Instruction manual: Flip through the instruction manual of the machine. Make sure it's well written, clearly illustrated. Read through a couple of pages, see if it explains things well. You'll refer to it from time to time.